College basketball teams, both men and women, are competing in their final regular season games over the next couple of days. There are regular season conference championships on the line.
And these titles are certainly hard to come by.
Wyoming, for example, has not won an outright regular season championship in decades. The Pokes shared a regular-season title with Brigham Young and Utah at the end of the 2000-01 season.
It was the next season when the Cowboys won the regular season championship. The Pokes would win the title outright all to themselves on the last day of the regular season. On that last day of the regular season the Cowboys would play the team that they were tied with at the top of the standings. And the championship game would be played in the beautiful Arena Auditorium.
It was a Saturday afternoon in the Double A when this classic took place. The schedule worked out perfectly. The two best teams in the Mountain West were in a dead-heat tie at 10-3 going into the title game. It was a great match-up between two longtime rivals, and it was winner take all.
It was Wyoming vs. Utah. And each year over the last 20 seasons at this point I can’t help but reminisce about that big game – and championship win – for the Cowboys.
I’ve been so fortunate to have broadcast so many great Cowboys Basketball games over 36 seasons behind the microphone. And there were quite a few big games in that time. There were the NCAA wins over UCLA and Virginia in Salt Lake City back in 1987. There have many postseason tournament victories, and of course any win over a rival like CSU, BYU or Utah ranks high on the list.
But the victory the Cowboys got March 2, 2002, is certainly one the biggest wins in University of Wyoming basketball history.
And it’s my favorite.
It was, of course, the game itself that helped to make it so. It would be a hard-fought, hotly contested event. And the game would be extremely close throughout, ending in a one-point Cowboy victory.
But what I will remember most is the incredible, record-breaking crowd.
A little over 16,000 attended, 16,089 to be exact. It was the largest crowd ever in the Arena Auditorium. And it is the biggest crowd to come into the Double A since, a record that has stood some 21 years.
And every fan in the building was very much involved.
The game was a defensive struggle from the start. Both teams were outstanding at the defensive end of the floor throughout the season, and it carried over to the championship game.
Utah had the lead at halftime, 24-22.
Both teams scored a bit more in the second half. The Cowboys would outscore the Utes 35-32 in the second half to win the game 57-56.
This was an outstanding Wyoming team, sporting four All-Conference team members and two future Hall of Famers.
The two Hall of Famers would lead the way to a championship.
Marcus Bailey was the only player in the game to play all 40 minutes, and he led all Wyoming scorers with 14 points. Josh Davis added 11 points and 8 rebounds.
Utah’s Nick Jacobson led all scorers with 24 points, and the Johnsens, Britton and Jeff, each had 11 points.
As it turned out, this championship may have been won at the free throw line.
The Cowboys were 16-18 from the foul line. The Utes were 9-12.
All five Wyoming starters hit their free throws. Bailey, Davis, Uche-Nsonwu-Amadi, Donta Richardson and Jason Straight were a combined 14-14 from the free throw line.
It is the only time Wyoming has won an outright Mountain West Conference regular season men’s basketball championship.
The Cowboys did it almost exactly 21 years ago.
The Cowboys did it in front of the largest home crowd ever.
It was loud.
And it was awesome.